The strategic impetus for social network ties: reconstituting broken ceo friendship ties

Authors


Abstract

Research on organization–environment relations has focused primarily on formal linkages between organizations such as board interlock ties as a strategy for managing resource dependence. This study examines whether top corporate executives may maintain more informal ties to executives of other firms in order to manage uncertainty arising from resource dependence. Our point of departure is prior research on boards of directors that has examined whether so-called ‘broken board ties’ (i.e., ties that are disrupted due to executive turnover) tend to be reconstituted, and whether resource dependence explains the likelihood of reconstitution. These studies have generally provided little evidence that corporate board ties are used to manage resource dependence. We draw from theory and research on social embeddedness and friendship to suggest that, as a strategy for managing dependence, the maintenance of friendship ties between top executives provides benefits that are comparable to the supposed benefits of board cooptation, while imposing fewer constraints on the organization. Our theory leads to the contention that, despite limited prior evidence that resource dependence determines the formation of formal board ties, corporate leaders may nevertheless reconstitute informal (i.e., friendship) ties to leaders of other firms that have the power to constrain their firms' access to needed resources when those ties have been disrupted (e.g., due to turnover of the CEO's friend). We test our hypotheses with a unique dataset that includes survey data from U.S. corporate leaders collected at two points in time, thus permitting an assessment of whether top executives reconstitute broken social ties to leaders of other firms, and whether various sources of resource dependence predict the likelihood of reconstitution. We discuss implications for strategic perspectives on inter-organizational relations and the sociological literature on embeddedness. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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